Havana Night Life
Jay Mallin, Sr.
is an unpublished article which
the author sent to Cuban Information Archives. It
was undated but
probably was written around 1956-57 before the Riviera and
opened. For more works by Jay
Mallin, Sr. go to his home page.]
Calle 13 # 416
Vedado, Habana, Cuba
Havana night life
Havana is the tropical city of Rum, Rumba and Roulette, and
winning combination spells Romance to increasing numbers of
Americans. Last year 285,000 tourists visited the
This year the figure is expected to be considerably higher.
one of the major attractions is the city's famed
is but 90 miles and 50 minutes from the nearest U. S.
airport at Key
West. Two hours after leaving Key West, the fun-seeker
playing roulette, craps, chemin de fer, the bird cage and
in addition to five-cent, ten-cent, twenty-five-cent, and
slot machines. The tourist can buy rum at $1.20 a
the conga, rumba, mambo and cha cha cha in the land that
them, and watch nightclub shows with 40 or 50 performers
voodoo numbers. After a few nights of this, the tourist can
return home. If he is destitute, the Anglo-American
Federation will stake him to a loan.
But he will have something to talk about with his cronies
for months to
come – until he can save up enough money and vacation time
to return to
Havana. Fun-seeker can tell about the celebrities he
shoulders with. Recent visitors to the city's
included Ava Gardner, Groucho Marx, Jennifer Jones, David
Marlon Brando, John Cassavetes and Senator Joe McCarthy.
page 2 Havana night life
In addition, the nightclubs present top name stars from
abroad in their
shows. This year's performers have included Dorothy
Maurice Chevalier, Billy Daniels, Nat "King" Cole, Eartha
Piaf, Ilona Massey, Cab Calloway, Dorothy Dandridge, Tony
Simms, Connee Boswell and Vicente Escudero.
And when he goes to a stag party back home, Mr.
Tourist-Who-Has-Visited-Havana will relate details about the
Shanghai theatre, the only public theatre in the world that
risque plays with gutter jokes, 2) completely naked women
pornographic movies. All this you see for a mere $1.25
– slip the usher a dollar bill for a front-row seat.
The shanghai, the only burlesque house in Havana, presents
twice nightly, with a matinee on Sundays. The show
opens with the
first act of the play, and thereafter the acts alternate
musical numbers, in which six or eight women prance around
their clothes until none remain. Finally come the
these are not burlesque movies but straight pornographic
The Shanghai has been run for a quarter of a century by
Jose Orozco Garcia, who laments, "Ours is a small country,
are not many girls who are willing to appear naked."
It has been said that when "Cuba" is mentioned to an
American who has
visited the island, he visualizes Morro Castle, a bottle of
Tropicana nightclub. Of Tropicana, "Variety" once
"Tropicana need not fear competition from other
could fire the entertainers, ban the musicians and serve
of Scotch, and people would still flock to see the place."
Page 3 Havana night life
The reason for this is simply that Tropicana is the largest
beautiful nightclub in the world – at least, it has long
and no one has yet come forward to contradict it.
located on what was once a 36,000-square-meter country
The nightclub proper today occupies 8,000 square meters, so
28,000 square meters of well-kept gardens for necking – or
28 square meters for each of the nightclubs 1,000 nightly
So as not to waste anyone's time, the gambling room at
located right off the entrance lobby. The chandeliered
ten tables for the usual fun and games, plus 30 slot
Beyond the gambling room are the nightclub's two dining,
show areas. The two areas are distinct: one is
tall royal palms rising among and over the tables; the other
and called the Crystal Arch. The Arch is indeed a
modernistic arch-like structure, and this area is used in
weather (and also when the outdoor area gets so crowded that
no more room for customers). Tropicana's total seating
1,750, but of course you can stand at the bar or at the crap
the management won't object at all.
Because of Tropicana's bucolic surroundings, the producer of
Rodrigo Neira (better known simply as Rodney), can really
himself. A Tropicana production number is not complete
includes at least half the chorus line dancing on catwalks
trees. The schoolteacher from Paducah is suitable
he sees scantily clad lassies scampering in front of him, to
to his left and above him. This is as hard on the neck
watching a tennis match.
Page 4 Havana night life
Sugar is Cuba's major industry (it provides the energy in
rum and rumba
dancers). Tourists may think rum is the second
industry, but they
are wrong: they are the country's second industry, spending
$60,000,000 annually. To increase this sum materially,
government in 1955 enacted a law permitting the extension of
facilities to places that previously were not allowed to
them. All hotels worth over $1,000,000 were now
install casinos if they wanted them – and were willing to
fees to the government, plus a percentage of the take.
Wilbur Clark, who runs Las Vegas' Desert Inn, promptly
concession to open a casino in the Hotel Nacional, the
largest hotel. The casino opened in January of
consists of the Casino Parisien (dining and dancing), the
Casino (gambling) and the Starlight Terrace (bar). The
tended by local bar-tenders, the casino is managed by
Las Vegas, and the dining room is in the hands of a fellow
Tchitchinadze, fortunately known simply as Gogi, formerly of
LaRue of New York. (Gogi, as anyone with that name
would be, is
Now abuilding is the Habana Hilton Hotel. This is also
to have a
casino. There are two other top-notch niteries in
One is Montmartre. Located entirely indoors, it has
entertainments: food, liquor, roulette and dancing
other place is Sans Souci, and the aptness of its name
depends on how
much Scotch you consume and how well you do at the crap
Located far out of town, Sans Souci has a bucolic aura not
Tropicana's but on a considerably less spectacular
Souci recently installed an innovation not usually found at
bingo. Even the children can play.
Page 5 Havana night life
Inevitably, after he has seen all the big nightclubs, the
to see other nightspots that are "different" – and where
don't go. Havana has an ample number of these places,
Mr. -Tourist-Who-Wants-To-Be-Different can mingle with other
who want to be different.
Some of the places:
The row of spots in the area known as La Playita, including
Pennsylvania and Panchin Club. Here the dancing is
although the liquor sometimes is. As the rhythms get
heavy, the customers on the dance floor become less
those in the show.
The outdoor cafes along Prado Boulevard which are one of the
Havana is known as the "Paris of the Americas." El
Dorado has an
all-girl orchestra, and you can listen to the music, sip
your drink and
watch the crowds go by.
Scattered around town are several places with more or less
Spanish atmosphere (i.e., music and wine jugs). At the
San Roman someone usually plays a bagpipe, which, no matter
tell you in Edinburgh, is originally Spanish.
The bars and cocktail lounges, of which there are over 100,
counting the 3,000 corner stores ("bodegas") which sell
liquor by the
glass or bottle. The better bars provide live
singers, pianists or accordion players.
Lesser nightclubs, like the Bambu and La Campana, have slot
but no other gambling facilities. The cha cha chas are
and so are the mosquitoes at some of the places outside
Havana thus provides entertainments to suit all
tastes. There is
something for everyone in the nightlife of "the Pearl of the
"the Paris of the Americas," "the sexiest city in the
Dance, drink and dine, visit the dives and the palaces, rick
shekels on the "shimmies" (gamblese for chemin de fer) and
amidst the tropical grandeur and gaiety, for tomorrow is
everyone knows that manana is never today.
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